How to Identify a Trafficking Victim

Human trafficking occurs in many industries.

For example:

  • Agriculture/Farm work
  • Hotels
  • Nail salons/Spas
  • Restaurants
  • Construction, Landscaping
  • Domestic work
  • Factories
  • Brothels: Massage parlors
  • Escort services; Street prostitution
  • Pornography: Electronic media; Strip clubs

Health Care

Health care is one of the few professions where staff meet with victims while they are still being trafficked. Staff may be able to identify victims due to the nature of their injuries. This means health care workers can intervene and provide referrals for assistance.

It's the Law to Identify and Treat Victims

New York State Public Health Law requires certain health facilities to set up and carry out written policies and procedures. Their task is to help identify, assess, treat, and refer likely victims.

The facilities include:

  • Hospitals
  • Public health centers
  • Diagnostic and treatment centers
  • Outpatient departments.

Common Health Problems Among Trafficking Victims

  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Cigarette burns
  • Complications from unsafe abortion
  • Contusions
  • Depression
  • Fractures
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches
  • Oral health problems
  • Pelvic pain
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Vaginal pain

Sometimes presenting health problems mask the issue of trafficking. It is important that health care professionals watch for red flags. Staff can help identify potential trafficking situations.

Warning Signs

At work, and in life, a victim often:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as they wish
  • Is under 18. Provides commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry. Has a pimp/manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks. Suffers unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt. Is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises about the nature and conditions of their work
  • May live under high security measures at work or home (e.g., opaque windows, boarded-up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims they are just visiting. Unable to clarify where they’re staying (address)
  • Lacks knowledge of whereabouts; doesn’t know what city they are in
  • May have lost their sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in their story